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Ericsson and Kodiak in Europe WALKIE-TALKIE-style push-to-talk push

Euro teens dissed it... hope construction, hotel crews don't

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Push-to-talk company Kodiak has struck a deal with Ericsson to sell the systems it is currently touting to the US market through American firm Cspire to European telcos. The pair are aiming to sell these services to both real mobile network operators and virtual ones.

The technology emulates an old-fashioned walkie-talkie using 4G, Wi-Fi and cloud services. Ericsson hosts the technology platform provided by Kodiak Networks in Ericsson’s Romanian data centre. The duo are targeting it at construction, hospitality, security, oil & gas, utilities, manufacturing, field services, education and transportation.

They are not aiming it at the mainstay of PTT – the emergency services – as being IP-based, it’s too laggy. The example the Tetra community loves to give is that of a commander with a team of snipers giving the order “don’t shoot”, and the first half of the message getting lost as a result of latency.

One of the great advantages of PTT is that it is one-to-many. The boss of a taxi company could let all his drivers know that Tower Bridge has lifted or that Hanger Lane is packed with traffic.

The Kodiak client runs on a number of phones, including Androids and iPhones, but it is those with dedicated PTT buttons such as the Samsung Rugby flip phone and the NEC Terrain which make the best use of it.

Unlike previous attempts to sell PTT, it’s not aimed at consumers. Around a decade ago, Orange decided that Kodiak’s 2G-based PTT was perfect for teenagers and that pushing to talk, message, or send a picture was the “new SMS”. Unfortunately the latency was appalling – of the order of a minute – and teenagers decided that having a conversation where only one person could speak at a time was not a good idea.

After having told handset manufacturers that they would not get any orders unless they built PTT based on the Kodiak codec into phones, Orange then gave up on the idea and neglected to order any of the expensive devices. Ericsson’s head of IT managed services, Luigi Migliaccio says that he thinks that attempt to sell PTT was before the technology was ready and that today there may be an opportunity based around the smartphone clients.

We have seen a respectable GSM implementation of PTT in Europe, this was GSM-R a standard particularly designed for Railways. Ericsson made the hefty 330g R250s PRO handset which supported it, but GSM-R never really took off – with even the targeted market of railways falling to adopt it. Many of the markets Ericsson is aiming at are currently catered for by Tetra, which is a technology that is running out of steam. The Tetra market is expecting to go 4G but wants updates to the specification. Migliaccio says that the updates are in the works and Ericsson will implement them when they are finished.

Kodiak claims a “sub-second” latency for its product but Tetra is specced to 200ms – although in practice systems often fail to achieve this. It would take some practical demonstrations to prove to the customers that not only was the latency acceptable, but that it didn’t lead to any loss of information.

Something the cloud-based solution won’t be able to do is fall back to a device-to-device radio. Tetra devices can, in the event of the failure of the network, communicate directly with each other.

Ericsson has higher hopes for the latest implementation and point to American success with Cspire, although this will to some extent come from the closure of Nextel, which offered a PTT service and had a strong blue-collar niche. ®

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